We popped our cherries at George Lane Municipal Campground in High River, Alberta. That may sound like a typical prairie high school prom story but alas, it isn’t. In this case, it’s the simple tale of our first ever camping excursion as RV owners.
The year was 2011. Summer. We had purchased our very first travel trailer, a 13 year old Trail Lite that we found listed on Kijiji by a guy in Edmonton. I’d gotten a ticket on the way back to Calgary for refusing to change lanes or slow down to 60 km/h when passing a police vehicle giving someone else a ticket on the side of the road. I thought it was safer that I not change lanes rashly or suddenly slow. The boy-child highway patrol sheriff informed me otherwise.
I was already nervous about pulling a trailer. And parking a trailer. And setting up a trailer. And generally doing anything one does with a trailer. Getting a traffic ticket on my maiden voyage wasn’t helping calm my nerves.
So when it came time to pop our camping-with-a-trailer cherries, we sought a campground close to home, fully serviced, and not in the slightest bit remote. If anything went wrong, we wanted help readily available. And if things went horribly wrong, I wanted a quick retreat to the safety and seclusion of my house basement.
A bit of online searching quickly served up George Lane Municipal Campground in High River as a contender. Roughly forty-five minutes away and located smack dab in the downtown core of a lovely foothills town south of Calgary, it checked all our newbie boxes.
We booked ourselves a two-night stay over a late spring weekend and learned how to camp with our new-to-us trailer. We have yet to return.
Poor First Impression
There are reasons for this. While its location was perfect for our first outing, camping in the core of a town is not what we bought the trailer to do. Camping is meant to be an escape from urbanity, not a means of embracing it.
Furthermore, the massive flooding that hit southern Alberta in 2013, ravaged High River, including George Lane Municipal Campground. A large chunk of the campground and neighbouring park were destroyed and the campground was thus closed for a long while as it was rebuilt.
And finally, our first experience at George Lane Municipal Campground wasn’t the greatest. Our site was at far the end of the single loop. We were essentially neighbours with a group site in the greater Lions Park of which George Lane Municipal Campground is a part.
During our stay, a motorcycle gang was spending the weekend camping in said group site. They did not sleep much. Instead, they were up until 5:00 in the morning listening to Steppenwolf (so cliché) and watching Smokey and the Bandit II on a large LCD television they had removed from one of the RVs and placed on a picnic table for all to watch.
It. Was. Hell. And I say that as someone who LOVES Smokey and the Bandit!
As I lay there, unable to sleep, hoping our young children would sleep through the racket, I wondered what torment we had committed ourselves to with this camping gambit. If this was what we could expect every weekend of camping, our ownership of a travel trailer would be very short-lived.
I am fully aware of my hypocrisy in my having been one of those obnoxious teens that stayed up drinking and partying to loud music all night on long weekends at assorted southern Ontario provincial parks. At least we didn’t have outdoor TVs in those days. And we certainly were kicked out our fair share.
All things considered, we just never had reason to return to George Lane Municipal Campground. We still don’t. Not as campers, anyway. But curiosity is a tempting vixen and so this summer I took the opportunity to visit ground zero of our camping hobby after dropping off my daughter at a summer horse camp somewhat nearby.
Back to the Future
Rather than scurry back home, the wife and I did a little sight-seeing of some former camping spots we hadn’t been to in years. A half-day trip down memory lane with a stop for lunch. And hey, it seemed like a good way to get myself another campground review for the blog without having to actually camp.
We approached George Lane Municipal Campground from presumably the same direction we had eight previous. We recognized not a thing. Either age has deteriorated our brains or this part of High River changed dramatically post-flood. I suspect it’s the latter. Mostly.
The downtown looks noticeably contemporary which is not something you typically say about prairie towns. Even the more prosperous ones hold onto their century-old buildings and generally aged cores. I suspect portions were entirely rebuilt after flooding devastated the place. It looks good.
That said, you still enter George Lane Municipal Campground through George Lane Park. This is a lovely park that looks to be the hub of summer social activities in this town. With a large ball diamond, an elaborate playground, picnic areas, a performance stage, and a concession booth, one can easily imagine this place hopping with activity on gorgeous weekends all summer long.
We, on the other hand, were snooping around mid-morning on a Tuesday. The place was quiet, almost barren, save for a dad with his kids at the playground. A troop of Scouts were set up at one of the group picnic areas, tents all in a row, but not a soul around.
Having parked our car, we went for a walk through the campground, which was only about half full. To be perfectly honest, George Lane Municipal Campground is really quite nice. It’s no wilderness wonderland; you won’t mistake it for a mountain park campground or even a prairie lake campground, but by most municipal campground standards, it’s a little piece of heaven.
Tucked away between the community park and a lazy bend in the Highwood River, George Lane is a proper campground with gravel pads and towering cottonwood trees sheltering the reasonably sized campsites. A refreshing change from the open fields so often called campgrounds in other small towns.
A large berm borders the river. I suspect this is a flood prevention structure that I don’t recall being present during our first visit. Atop the berm is a paved pathway and some metal benches all of which are part of a longer community pathway system allowing for nice walks from your campsite along the river and into town.
I wouldn’t call the sites private by any means, but they aren’t sardined in like some other campsites you’ll find in your travels. They are large enough to accommodate camping rigs of all sizes, including some truly mammoth motorhomes that the campground hosts own.
We were surprised to find three of those. Hosts, that is. I think campground hosts are a nice gesture. I don’t get much out of them, but it’s a neat idea. I’ve just never seen three of them at a single campground and certainly not at a campground this small.
With only 55 Sites, plus two group areas, George Lane Municipal Campground is sizeable for an urban campground, but not huge. Some might say it’s just right. Thanks, Goldilocks.
All sites have power as well as a picnic table and fire pit. These fire pits are unlike any I’ve seen before, being very shallow. They are metal, oblong creations with a rotating grill for cooking. You’d be hard-pressed to build up a tall fire with them as they only stand a handful of inches above the ground. I’m not sure the purpose of this modest stature other than to speculate it reduces oversized fire hazard in this urban setting. I’m not a fan.
The website indicates that three of these sites, and group area B, can be used as “unserviced” sites with a modest savings in cost. I wonder how they prevent you from sneaking out of your tent at 3:00 a.m. and charging your phone?
A registration office, the size of a small cabin, greets you at the entrance. They don’t appear to offer much here. Then again, you are literally blocks away from a bustling downtown so you don’t really need a convenience store in the campground.
A full service bathroom and shower building is located in behind the entrance cabin. I was unable to enter this building as the doors are locked with a coded entrance lock, presumably to keep out users of the neighbouring park and vagrants. I peeked through the screened window, briefly, and the bathroom looks perfectly fine. Men were showering so I didn’t gaze too long for fear of creeping them out. The website states that hot showers are free to registered users of George Lane Municipal Campground.
The single loop wandering though the forested campground starts on one side of the park and exits the other. There are no playgrounds in the campground proper but you are an easy stroll to all that George Lane Park has to offer, including the large, metal playground they have built for the community to use. It’s robust and great and were our kids younger, they’d love it.
A fenced ball diamond dominates the park and one assumes it is busy with games during summer weekends. Combined with the performance stage near the concession stand, there is plenty of free entertainment for campers. And with the whole town at your service, you can even skip out for a movie should you so desire. You know, instead of setting up a bloody television on your picnic table and keeping the neighbours up all hours!
A single dump station is present near the entrance to the park proper (i.e. not inside the campground). This is an awkward location and must cause congestion during busy exit times. But it appears to be free and allows for removal of waste before heading on your way.
The location of the group sites continues to haunt me. And seeing a couple dozen tents set up for a Scout gathering doesn’t ease my concerns. Getting the sites right next to the first group area would be unadvised and I would avoid those spots like the plague. Fool me twice, and all that.
Potable water is available at a couple spots around the campground loop. You can fill up your RV tanks or fill up your pots as needed.
Several quaint picnic areas dot the park which campers are welcome to use should you desire a change of scenery from your campsite.
When all is said and done, George Lane Municipal Campground remains a gem of an urban campground. I am quite smitten with it. But I still see no reason to go back. Campgrounds like this serve a specific purpose. I think, anyway. If you’re visiting family that live there, for example. Or you are in town for a summer sports tournament with your kids.
In those scenarios, George Lane Municipal Campground provides pretty, convenient, and in some ways unique accommodations for your visit to High River. As a summer vacation destination, though? You’re a potato gun shot from the Rocky Mountains! Why would you ever camp inside a town?
So, how does one rate such a place? It’s a 5 for the former and a 2 for the latter. Or something like that. I’ll give George Lane Municipal Campground 4 out of 5 Baby Dill Pickles. Mostly because I’m feeling generous. Despite its quirks, it offers much more than similar function campgrounds. As a destination spot, though, there are far nicer locations nearby.